Problem statement being solved by lego man


 In the spirit of full disclosure, is not a strong advocate of the traditional “Plan long and hard before trying anything” methodology that continues to dominate mainstream thinking in both education and business.  Though we are firm believers that entrepreneurs and startups should have an understanding of the Strategic Cycle, we are nonetheless experimenters at heart.   From our perspective, it is better to get out and start experimenting early, rather than spend months planning and piling up budget costs on something that may never see the light of day.

Full disclosure aside, it is time to introduce this blog topic and talk about two very important concepts:

  1. Education industry problems
  2. Structuring a problem statement

Let’s get started.

Education Industry Problems

There is just so much to talk about here. Literally, anything you can touch, see, or think about in the education industry has a long history of problems associated with it. But complaining doesn’t solve much of anything, and growing up, complaining just left me sitting alone at the dinner table long after all the non-complainers had put their plates away and moved on with the evening.

Categorizing vs Complaining

The purpose in writing this introduction focusing on the problems of the education industry is NOT to get people complaining. Rather, we want to have people start CATEGORIZING the problems you see on a daily basis. The first step to defining solvable problems statements is to categorize the problems before taking the problems to a granular level of detail.

In a strictly academic setting, a problem statement should consist of 5 components:

1. Background Information
2. General Problem Statement
3. Scholarly Support
4. Specific Problem Statement
5. Concluding Commentary

Fortunately, in the world of startups and technology, we only focus really on points 1,2, and 4. It all kind of fits together in the ‘Specific Problem Statement.’ The Concluding Commentary basically consists of defending yourself from the onslaught of VC questions that come barreling at you if you were successful enough to challenge the status quo with a quality problem statement.

In the education industry, we are often discussing Macro-economic level impacts and policy decisions. While the policies are set at a higher level, their vibrations are felt in the classroom. Formulating the complete picture of how macro-level policies play out in the classroom is a tough challenge.

Let the ideas flow

To begin formulating clear problem statements for the education industry, it is best to start listing as many problems as you can think of in their raw format. Just let the raw emotions out. Listing problems off one sentence after another until you have run out of ideas.

While these categories are in now way exhaustive, they should give some help towards shaping the categories of problems you see, as an educator, on a daily basis:

  1. Budget
  2. Parent involvement
  3. Assessments
  4. Standardized testing
  5. Mixed income schooling

The list could go on for a very long time. A VERY long time. But venting about problems does not solve those problems. Crafting very specific problem statements are the first steps towards solving problems, and that is what we will look at next.

Making a problem statement

Defining a problem in the startup world is different from how problems have traditionally been thought about. The process for crafting a problem statement has some basic components:

  1. Find a problem in a market you know
  2. Validate the problem and observe how the market is dealing with it
  3. Determine if people are willing to pay for a solution to the problem
  4. If there is sufficient demand for a solution, solve the problem

All in all, it is a pretty straightforward process in numbered format. But as any teacher will tell you, a real-life word problem is never that simple. So let’s dig a little deeper on this.

Problem Identification and Validation

From problem discovery to product-market fit takes about two years on average. That may seem like a lot of time, but when you are working on the problem 15 hours a day, two years goes by in the blink of an eye. Typically, the easy part is to find a problem. People complain regularly, that is human nature. So we are all surrounded by problems that need solutions. The challenge is not in identifying problems. That is a psychologist’s job, and not an entrepreneur’s. An entrepreneur isn’t merely running around diagnosing problems. An entrepreneur tries to determine two critical data points about a problem:

  1. Is the problem wide-spread?
  2. Is the problem being dealt with in a uniformly unpleasant way?

But what does this process look like when solving a real-world problem? Let’s look at it with a real world problem and the successful problem statement to solve it.

Teachers in the classroom are struggling to manage the class rostering and passwords for students and their digital contents. Reporting requirements at the school, district, state, and federal levels require that digital content activities be traced back to individual students. However, all educational stakeholders are struggling to manage the many passwords required to log in and access digital contents in the classroom. Furthermore, children have limited ability to manage their own passwords, thus consuming teacher classroom time to deal with password management. Teachers, schools, and districts need a simple solution that allows all content providers to sync to a single password for each student, and provide content engagement history that can be reported at the district and state levels.

The problem statement above was an acutal problem that the founders of Clever, Dan Carroll and Tyler Bosmeny observed first-hand. So solve this observed problem, the two founders created a Single-Sign-On (SSO) solution that allows immediate class rostering and password management for students. Product usage can be recorded at the student level, and reported up the stakeholder chain as needed.

Let’s look at the steps for creating your own problem statement to get you started on solving the biggest problems in the education industry!

Problem Statement Steps

Let’s next take a look at the step by step process for creating your own industry-specific problem statements.

Step 1: Be specific
Step 2: Clearly define the target market
Step 3: Define the size of the market and the size/scope of the problem
Step 4: Define the current “workaround” solution that people are using
Step 5: Make the problem general to everyone.

One of the hardest things to do is to separate yourself from the problem. While you may have found the problem and your team is investigating it, the most important thing you need to do is look at the problem objectively as it affects the market. Investors and consumers are looking for solutions that solve the market’s problems, and not YOUR problems. In a perfect world, the solution to your problems are also the solution to the market’s problems.

But that is for the facts to determine….


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